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O’Neill, D. and Organ, S.

(2016) A literature review of the evolution


of British prefabricated low-rise housing. Structural Survey, 34 (2).
pp. 191-214. ISSN 0263-080X Available from: http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/30488

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A Literature Review of the Evolution of British Prefabricated Low-rise Housing

Purpose
This paper explores academic papers and reports and presents a chronology of the
evolution of British low-rise prefabricated housing. The paper provides chronological
information for construction and surveying researchers undertaking research in
associated areas.

Design/methodology/approach
This is a qualitative literature review, providing an exploration and analysis of
academic papers and reports on low-rise prefabricated housing.

Findings
A substantial literature was discovered. However, there are gaps in the available
literature. The history of British construction technology is a rich research area but is
under-researched.

Prefabricated housing has a long history dating back to the 11th Century. Stigmatised
from the failures of housing in the 20th Century, it is being increasingly used again in
the 21st Century when considering mass housing supply.

Research limitations/implications
This paper provides researchers with an overview of the history of low-rise
prefabricated housing in the Britain. It is not a comprehensive in-depth study; such
would require numerous larger individual studies.

Originality/value
From reviewing literature it was evident that there was a broad literature, but there
was no single journal publication exploring the evolution of British low-rise
prefabricated housing.

The research provides an overview, exploration and analysis of the literature while
providing a chronology. The evolution of prefabricated housing is chronologically
presented. Areas for further research are also recommended.

Keywords
Prefabricated housing, Construction technology, Literature review, Chronology,
Evolution.

Paper type
Literature review

Introduction
The purpose of this paper is to provide a chronology of the evolution of low-rise
housing. In doing so a chronology of information is developed. This is done through a
review of the literature. The review will be in a chronological order with the use of
time periods. The literature explored is then analysed. The periods were chosen based
on the literature available and the significance of the time periods. Due to more
literature being available in the twentieth century due to records and research, there
are larger sections from 1918 onwards.

The following sections are presented in an order to help the reader understand the
topic. In the following section, the construction history literature is overviewed and
construction history as a field is discussed. This is followed by an explanation of the
literature review methodology. The literature review is divided into the following
sections: The Origins of Prefabricated Housing (1200s to 1600); Prefabricated
housing between 1624 and 1800; Progression of prefabricated housing between 1800
and 1918; Prefabricated housing between 1918 and 1945; Prefabricated housing from
post-WW2 to 1959; Prefabricated housing in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s; Prefabricated
housing from the 1990s to the Present. ‘Prefabricated housing – Going Forward’
looks at the possibilities for prefabricated housing in the future.

The discussion analyses the findings of the review and chronology, this is followed by
conclusions including recommendations for research.

Construction History
Overall, there is much in the existing literature on prefabricated housing, with recent
centuries being more heavily researched. From the review of the literature,
prefabricated housing is thought to have originated with cruck frame, and was aided
by the Norman Conquest in 1066. Prefabricated housing was significantly aided by
innovation, the Industrial Revolution and war; specifically, with the push of the
technological innovation during the Industrial Revolution and the pull of demand for
housing during and following both World Wars. There have been problems with
delivering large-scale building programmes, and the word ‘prefabrication’ has gained
stigma. In the near future, the demand for housing and requirement for efficiency and
sustainability could be the next development in prefabrication under its new identity:
Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).

Construction History is a movement as opposed to a discipline (Meyer and Hassler,


2009), and in Britain it depends on individual researchers, a number of history
focused research organisations, and the knowledge of professional bodies (Addis,
2004). This form of research can focus on a variety of building elements across broad
geographical and time spans. It can focus on technology, procedures, theories and
process of constructing, the contexts, the structures, and conditions of production
associated with a building; all identified of central importance (Meyer and Hassler,
2009). These aspects must be acknowledged in exploring the evolution of British
prefabricated low-rise housing. Construction History research is more substantial now
than in previous decades. The improvements in the past decade compared with earlier
decades can be identified by comparing Picon (2005-6) and Dunkeld (1987).
However, Holt (2015) still identifies it as under-researched.

In historical research, it is not possible to collect all data, information and knowledge
from the past. Thus, there is a limitation to what can be achieved when looking back
in the hope of exploring the evolution of construction, a view supported by Yilmaz
(2006). This paper explores the evolution of British prefabricated low-rise housing;
primarily with the use of academic and technical literature.

Defining and Categorising Prefabrication


Prefabrication has been understood and interpreted in different ways. In the years
following the Second World War (WW2) there was an issue regarding the definition
of prefabrication - was it a house which could be delivered in pieces and assembled,
or did it need to be built entirely in a factory. Piroozfar and Farr (2013) provide
insight into the different concepts, terms and definitions attributed to non-traditional
methods of construction. They discuss mass production, industrialisation,
industrialised building systems, modularisation, prefabrication, off-site manufacturing
as individual concepts (ibid.). However, regardless of classifications, systemised
buildings or industrialised building systems can be traced back to timber frame. The
essence of off-site construction is best represented by prefabrication. Building has
always been associated with prefabrication (ibid.), with prefabricated components
being incorporated into traditional construction (Hayes, 1999). Piroozfar and Farr
(2013) conclude that the concepts should be known and understood in a holistic
manner. For this research, drawing lines between the concepts, or pigeonholing and
categorising based on concepts is unpractical and fuzzy, and will not be done.

Methodology
In using literature review methodology for this research, the problems of historical
research must be understood. The use of history to use the ‘past to predict the future’
and to use the ‘present to explain the past’ makes history unique. Historical research
is unique and useful for study. Historical research involves the personality of the
researcher more than other types of research (Cohen, et al., 2007). This was
understood prior to undertaking research. The problems of historical research are:
 Defining the problem too broadly;
 The tendency to use easy-to-find data;
 Inadequate criticism;
 Poor logical analysis;
 Expression of personal bias; and
 Poor reporting.
(ibid.)

After defining the purpose, the methodological process identified in four steps:
1. Search for literature,
An extensive search for literature was undertaken of journals and conferences’
publications. The literature reviewed encompassed journal papers, conference papers,
technical reports, survey reports, books, and educational literature. This peer-
reviewed literature was aided by grey literature. The reviewed literature consisted of
documents which had documentary research and analysis methodology. The sources
of literature are evident in the references.

Due to the technical nature of the research topic ‘grey literature’ was required, and
this is referenced throughout. Aina (2000: 179) defines grey literature as follows:
“Grey literature is that which is produced at all levels by government, academia,
business and industries, both in print and electronic formats but which is not
controlled by commercial publishing interests and where publishing is not the
primary activity of the organisation”. Grey literature has significance for research,
policy and decision-making (Aina, 2000). Luzi (2000) describes the difficulty of
retrieval of grey literature, which was once a distinctive feature is being minimised.
This has significantly changed since the publication of Luzi (2000), with increased
internet use and online publishing. In this research, grey literature is considered that
literature which has not been subjected to peer-review by experts.
2. Explore and evaluate the relevance of the literature
There is a broad literature on prefabricated low-rise housing, and any literature which
was relevant was included. All documents were written by professional writers. The
academic papers are well researched and presented, but there is no metric. The Grey
literature supplements the gaps in the academic literature.

3. Analyse the literature


Bowen (2009) details the advantages and limitations of documentary analysis. The
authors acknowledge the advantages:
 The method is efficient;
 Many documents are easy to retain;
 The method is cost efficient;
 The review has a lack of obtrusiveness and reactivity
Documents cited are stable, with the exception of in-house educational
material, which may change; and
 There is the advantage of exactness when dealing with documents
The literature reviewed contains documents which cover long spans of time,
and many locations.

The authors encountered difficulty, and acknowledge the flaws of documentary


analysis:
 Many documents are insufficient in detail, and this paper relies on other sources
to cover the detail;
 There are many publications which could not be accessed due to limits in time
and cost. However, many of the documents reviewed were easy to attain; and
 The authors attempted to limit bias in selecting literature. The relevant literature
comes from a broad range of sources.
Documentary research is useful in longitudinal analysis, as it can show how situations
evolved over time. This is significant for this literature review on the evolution of
prefabricated housing. However, caution must be exercised as documents are only an
interpretation of actual events (Cohen, et al., 2007). The authenticity and accuracy of
the texts were critically assessed before selecting them for this research. The
intentions of the texts’ authors were considered. All the documents referenced were
written by skilled professional writers of different disciplines.

4. Organise and present the literature.


With acknowledgement of Bowen (2009), the researchers strived to make the
literature review analytical and transparent. The periods for analysis were chosen due
to the significant changes and developments in prefabrication.

The following time periods and headings were chosen due to the milestones within
and the significance of the periods for prefabricated housing, and a timeline produced
(Figure 1) based on the findings from the existing literature. They could be rearranged
to present a different categorisation of the literature. These were inductively inferred
from the literature. A review of the literature will be presented before a discussion is
presented and the paper is concluded. In Holt’s (2015) recent paper, good scholarship
using Construction History is provided through expertly synthesised literature. What
follows is an exploration and analysis of literature. A neat ‘historical overview’ could
not be accurately undertaken for this review, as there are overlapping and reoccurring
themes. What is presented is a chronological format, and not a systematic, thematic or
traditional literature review format.

[Insert Figure 1 here]

The Origins of Prefabricated Housing (1200s to1600)


Ågren and Wing (2014) identify moments in the history of industrialised building,
describing modular building and prefabrication, but the origin of prefabricated
housing in Britain is not discussed. The University of the West of England (UWE)
(2014), in a brief and encompassing overview, describes the changes in architecture
and building for housing between the Georgian period and the post-war era. However,
from this, it might be considered prefabricated housing developed in post-
industrialised Britain, or more specifically after WW2. British prefabrication is much
older than this, and can be traced back to the colonisation of North America, and even
further to cruck frame construction.
Using timber for prefabricated housing
A period of significant development of timber frame was between 1200AD and
1700AD (Sheridan, 2007), and notably the setting out and building of structures off-
site in the 1200s. As highlighted by Marshall et al. (2014), England and Wales have
been using indigenous timber for thousands of years to provide the main source of
structural building materials. Specialist books dealing with off-site prefabricated
timber buildings date to the 12th century (Gibb, 1999). Gibb (1999: 8) suggests that it
was the 12th century which saw a breakthrough in the use of industrial methods for
construction, whereas prior to this, such methods only evolved sporadically and at
times were ‘totally disregarded’. Piroozfar and Farr (2013) describe how Hewett
(1980) identifies the use of off-site fabrication in timber buildings in the 12th century.
Timber was the first material used in making prefabricated housing in other countries
due to its availability, requirement of limited technology and lifting equipment. The
early use of cruck frame in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands is referred to in
Salavessa (2012).

According to Hill (2005) it is accepted that crucks have existed since the time of the
Norman Conquest in 1066; the cruck design was possibly imported from central
Europe and was established in 1200. Salavessa (2012) highlights the Normans’
building skills, and use of wood technology developed from naval carpentry. The
early dating of crucks has relied heavily on documentary evidence. Hill (2005)
questions the origins of crucks, questioning the evidence that crucks developed in the
1100s, and if crucks developed from ‘base crucks’. Base crucks were another
structural form, similar to cruck frame. Alcock (2006) responded to Hill (2005),
describing how the evidence of both study buildings and documents are consistent
with crucks having origins in the 12th century, probably the early part of the century,
and with base crucks originating about 1200. Hill and Alcock (2007) further explore
the origins of crucks with each giving conclusions. Hill says a level of agnosticism
would be appropriate for now, however Alcock disagrees and states the origins must
be sought in the 12th century. In describing early European timber-framed buildings
Salavessa (2012) identifies the 1st century AD as being the period that cruck frame
originated in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. However, there might be a
semantic or classification difference in this publication.
Hill (2005) describes how the castle building programme in Wales in the late 13 th
century could have influenced the decimation of knowledge and skills among the
congregations of craft workers and the spread of the method of cruck construction.
There is some similarity here with the ideas for house fabrication coming from war-
time manufacturing for the British army; spin-offs of sorts. Crude timber
frames/crucks were used to build cottages in the 14th century (Piroozfar and Farr,
2013) and Alcock (2013) shows illustrations of crucks from the 1400s. Hill and
Alcock’s papers give intriguing and expert views on the origins and evolution of
crucks.

Prefabricated housing between 1624 and 1800


Over the centuries, Britain has exported and imported materials and components for
housing. The earliest evidence of exporting British prefabricated housing was in 1624
and is described in Smith (2009) where the British made housing and shipped it to
North America. Smith (2009) describes how later in the late 1700s and early 1800s
prefabricated dwellings were made and shipped to Australia. These were timber frame
structures, with either timber panel infill or lighter timber infill system or canvas, with
weather boarding. A variety of building types were constructed.

Progression of prefabricated housing between 1800 and 1918


Improvements in transportation, brought by the Industrial Revolution (circa 1760 –
1840), aided the movement of standardised, prefabricated materials. The Industrial
Revolution had a significant impact on construction, and this is evident it the
development of prefabrication. With industrialisation, brick was the first material to
be standardised (Piroozfar and Farr, 2013). The innovation of the Industrial
Revolution had a significant effect on house construction. Building Research
Establishment (BRE) (2004) notes the use of cast-iron houses for shipment to the
colonies. In 1820 prefabricated housing was shipped to South Africa. These were
basic cottage structures, requiring work to be assembled on site and were not as
predetermined as modern fabricated housing (Smith, 2009).

Manning Portable Colonial Cottage


The ‘Manning Portable Colonial Cottage’ was made in Britain and shipped to the
colonies in the 1800s (Smith, 2009). The Cottage system comprised of predetermined
components which could be assembled by unskilled labour, with the use of a wrench,
and was an improvement on previous systems. The individual components were easy
to carry. The Cottage focused on standardisation of components, and fast erection -
factors which become associated with prefabrication. The development of corrugated
iron sheeting in the early 1800s was utilised in prefabricated buildings; it was
economical, provided good spanning on frames, and several layers could be easily
stacked and transported (ibid.).

Use of Corrugated iron sheeting in prefabricated housing


Thomson (2006) presents the history of prefabricated corrugated iron buildings in
rural Scotland. Thomson and Banfill (2005) describe how the process of applying
corrugated plates to buildings was patented in 1829. However, the patent text implies
that the process was just an improvement of an existing method. The process of
galvanising the sheets with a layer of zinc was later patented in Paris in 1837. In 1843
the sheeting was used on a roof in the London Borough of Southwark In 1844, a
method for passing sheets between grooved rollers to make corrugations was
developed (ibid.). Corrugated iron would have a significant use in prefabricated
housing. In 1851, Morewood and Rogers’ catalogue showed a variety of prefabricated
buildings, including cottages. In 1849 and 1851 prefabricated buildings were exported
to California and Australia to serve people involved in gold rushes. There were a
number of large firms set up in the latter half of the 1800s to develop corrugated iron
buildings. Catalogues showing a variety of buildings were often provided by the
firms. Cooper’s catalogue includes specifications for foundations, floor construction
and ventilation (Thomson and Banfill, 2005). From the aforementioned text, we know
of the construction of corrugated iron buildings in the Scottish Highlands and Islands;
the following sentences give some details. Wall linings frequently consisted of
tongued and grooved boarding, while the floors were finished with timber boards. The
corrugated sheets were fixed to timber purlins or bolted to iron. Due to the absence of
traditional wet trades, the buildings were erected fast. Corrugated iron housing was
used in a variety of locations throughout the world, including Australia, South Africa,
America and Scotland (ibid.).

Corrugated iron is a familiar material in rural Scotland (Thomson, 2006). Thomson


and Banfill (2005) describe how corrugated housing was used in the Scottish
Highlands and Islands as it was easy to transport, easy to fix, required fewer roof
timbers, and could quickly be erected and made weather-tight. In such an
environment it is obvious that constructability was a core objective. Thomson and
Banfill (2005) describe the prefabricated buildings as an industrialised product which
either filled a market gap or competed with local materials for building. As of 2003, a
number of these dwellings being still in use (ibid.).

Prefabricated housing between 1918 and 1945


There has always been an evolution of house construction methods. Most construction
methods have been ‘branded’ new at some time. However, before the 1900s, the rate
of change was comparatively slow. In previous centuries, there was time for methods
to be evaluated, but the demand from 1918 onwards did not allow time for rigorous
evaluation of the quality of homes (BRE, 2004).

Technology plays a big role in architecture, and its innovation. Piroozfar and Farr
(2013) acknowledge the influence of technology in the twentieth century. Both
World Wars had a significant affect on prefabrication in Britain. Hashemi (2013)
states system building negatively affected the socio-economic conditions. Hashemi
(2013) describes how industrialisation was criticised by society for valuing quantity
over quality. The author is focused on “industrial building and main drivers behind
the fundamental shift from traditional to prefabricated methods of construction” and
gives a good description of the background and aftermath effects of system building
(Hashemi, 2013: 48).

Some of the inter-war years prefabricated housing proposals would be surprising by


modern standards, and this is briefly discussed in BRE (2004). The 1920s systems
comprised of two categories: the first utilised steel, timber, and large component
precast concrete; the second comprised of small scale on-site precast and in-situ
concrete systems. The former is wholly significant to this paper while the latter is
partially significant. The first category used the knowledge and skills of factory and
shipyard production while the second used the skills of unskilled and semi-skilled
construction labour (BRE, 2004). In the 1920s, Scotland was introducing similar
methods as used in English cities: concrete, steel and timber systems (Stationary
Office, 1988).
The BRE has produced a large amount of technical literature on prefabricated housing
in Britain. BRE’s (2004) publication ‘Non-traditional houses: Identifying non-
traditional houses in the UK 1918 - 75’, included information on metal framed
housing, precast concrete housing, and timber framed housing. This text is the most
comprehensive technical document on non-traditional methods reviewed. The BRE
(2004) cites many BRE publications and gives recommendations for further reading.
The text gives a comprehensive list of house types, beyond the scope of this paper.

Importing prefabricated housing and new technology


After the First World War (WW1) there was a shortage of traditional building
materials (BRE, 2004). In the 1920s manufacturing capacity, specifically pre-casting
technology, was taken advantage of to provide housing. With time, hundreds of house
types would be built using precast components (Concrete Society, 2008). System-
built timber frame houses were introduced in the 1920s. Between 1920 and 1944,
approximately 2,000 timber frame dwellings were constructed, using six main
systems, and these are described in the BRE (2005). According to the BRE (2005) the
systems with timber stud frame external walls were built between 1927 and 1941.
Britain, having exported housing to the colonies, imported prefabricated housing in
the 1920s to meet demand, with 700 houses with components from Sweden being
erected in London (ibid.). Pepper and Yeomans (2006) identify the introduction of
‘flat pack’ Scandinavian timber frames to meet the housing demand in the post-WW1
years. In 1945, Swedish housing was imported in sections to English and Scottish
designs. According to Mcintyre and Stevens (1995) approximately 4,500 of these
timber dwellings were erected between 1945 and 1951. Swedish timber housing
evidently remains in Scotland and was identified as an example for retrofit for the
Scottish Housing Quality Standard (Energy Saving Trust, 2008). Importing from
Scandinavia was not new. Scotland has imported timber from Scandinavia from as
early as the fourteenth century (Newland, 2011). Stationary Office (1987) provides
details of prefabricated houses built in Scotland, including the USA Temporary
Bungalow which was imported from America, and proved to be a poor temporary
system. Nash et al. (1954), reporting on fire safety concerns of the system, describe
there being 8,000 USA Temporary Bungalows in the UK. In discussing the ‘USA
Bungalow for the Temporary Housing Programme’, Vale (2003) states the British
programme contracted 30,000 dwellings, but only 8,462 were sent (this contradicts
Nash et al. 1954), with samples being brought and erected in 1945. Timber housing
had been imported from America previously. Vale (2003) describes the importing of
prefabricated timber dwellings from America, as part of WW1 emergency measures,
to provide housing for Austin Motor Company workers. Vale (2003) also describes
the erection of two hundred imported dwellings in 1917, giving a brief description of
the construction. McIntyre and Stevens (1995) describe Canadian Timber dwellings
which were imported in the late 1940s. These are just some examples of imported
systems to meet war-time demand.

Timber frame construction was favoured for its manufacturing qualities and for its
design flexibility. Among its advantages over other systems, timber frame was fast to
erect and required lighter foundations. The introduction of plywood aided the
development of timber-framed housing in the 1930s (Hashemi, 2013). Cities such as
Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool were leaders in using prefabricated methods before
WW1. Come the 1930s prefabricated cost efficient timber bungalows, clad in sheeting
materials were generally accepted by the public (BRE, 2004). The developments in
war-time technology, such as the development of resin-bonded plywood had a
significant impact. Manufacturing technology was imported to help in the production
of housing. The portable temporary bungalow required steel panel presses to be
ordered from the USA (ibid.).

Steel housing in Scotland


Stationary Office (1988) states 2,500 steel houses were erected in Scotland. Stationary
Office (1988) lists the major house types erected between 1923 and 1955: The Atholl,
Cowieson, and Weir; these were popular steel houses used between 1926 and 1928.
Weir Steel should not be confused with Weir Timber housing.1927 was the first time
since WW1 that the number of house completions passed 20,000 units; 1,100 of these
units were steel houses. Temporary housing was a big consideration for local
authority housing programmes. The temporary systems selected were chosen for their
ease of erection. Cost and constructability were the main criteria. The main systems
allocated by Government to local authorities in Scotland were Aluminium, Arcon,
Miller, Pheonix, Seco, and Tarran. Between 1945 and 1949, 32, 176 temporary units
were built in Scotland, and temporary housing built in this period was popular with
tenants (ibid).

Producing systems to meet demand


Gay (1987) identifies the prefabrication programme as a poor solution to the housing
problem of the 1940s. Preparation began early, but post-WW2 housing was poorly
planned. In the 1940s bricks and timber were in short supply. Gay (1987) suggests
that the approach to delivering housing was unstructured during this time, with neither
a drive to reorganise the building industry to supply a limited number of prefabricated
housing components, or the development of the industry to provide housing by
traditional methods with skilled labour. Instead individual companies produced many
different systems. Gay (1987) identifies the capitalist/individuality of the industry
being a fault, whereas a more unified, national, government-driven approach would
have delivered better results.

Post-war housing would be in low supply if dependent on traditional methods, so non-


traditional methods of construction were turned to as an alternative.
Gay (1987) outlines four factors which brought about the prefabrication programme:
 Introduction of enthusiasts for prefabrication into the administration;
 Pressure of industrial interests, as industry was worried about work shortage
after the war years;
 Collective administrative memory, as non-traditional methods were used after
WW1; and
 Emergence of the Ministry of Works which supported prefabrication.

The lifespan of temporary housing


Temporary housing was forecast to last up to ten years; with concerns that this period
would be prolonged. The concern was justified as Gay (1987) reports on housing
being in use three decades after construction. Prefabrication suited Churchill’s
philosophy of ‘action this day’, but was not suited to the delivery of long-term
housing. There was an issue with the lifespan of some housing systems. According to
the BRE (2004), one timber frame system did not last the ‘10 year design life’ of a
temporary unit. The housing programmes of the War years developed many systems,
with varying levels of technological advancement. According to the Stationary Office
(1988), in Scotland, the 10 year period was well exceeded in most cases, and built
with poorer technology than exists today, many house types have stood the test of
time.

Traditional and prefabricated methods


The brick industry collapsed after WW1; this was not allowed to happen after WW2
(Gay, 1987). Traditional construction was employed during the war years in parallel
with prefabrication. With prefabrication considered a temporary solution – traditional
building and prefabrication were conflicting policies (ibid.). This affected the
development of prefabricated housing.

From Hayes (2000) it is evident Churchill was a supporter of prefabrication and other
non-traditional methods of construction during the interwar period. Churchill was a
supporter of 1920s steel housing and was interested in technology (Gay, 1987). The
interwar years brought a scientific approach to design and construction with the
prefabrication and mass production of houses. There was optimism about ingenuity
and technology in the delivery of prefab housing. During and after WW2 innovators
were attached to construction to provide housing. Technology and science were
focused for to reduce labour, time and cost. All alternatives to traditional brickwork
and the greater ‘wet trades’ were considered. However, some wet trade focused
systems (e.g. No Fines) were used. Limited research on unfamiliar methods was a
problem. Some methods were more cost and time efficient than others. Comparisons
were often made between prefabricated and traditional building. There was scepticism
about prefabricated systems before and after WW2. Subsequent research has
identified the practical limits of prefabrication as a source of construction efficiency.
The search for new systems of house construction inspired greater interest for
research on building methods during this period (Hayes, 1999).

Prefabrication was considered by some as being able to address housing shortages


(Hayes, 2000). In Leicester, for example, there was a view that prefabricated concrete
systems could solve the housing crisis. This view of prefabrication being able to
elevate the shortages of housing was one shared with other countries. Further, there
existed the view that prefabricated housing would provide shelter for the poor, and
that the homeless would not be concerned with the type of materials from which these
homes were constructed (ibid.). Cities had individual plans in adopting non-traditional
housing; it would be generalising to say all of England adopted the same approach
(ibid.). Considering the number of methods, it is not reasonable to generalise all
prefabrication methods or the greater non-traditional methods as the same. This is
occasionally done anecdotally.

Demand for housing due to WW2


With the beginning of WW2, it was assumed thousands of housing units would be
needed for families after the bombing (BRE, 2004). During WW2, many local
authorities were working on prefabricated systems. Providing housing was a
challenge in the post-war years. Although Hayes (2000) suggests that the public
response to prefabrication was not unfavourable, the early post-war years did not
inspire public confidence in non-traditional methods. Indeed, Piroozfar and Farr,
(2013) identify the disapproval associated with prefabrication in the UK. This is down
to the problems with post-war housing, and the broader cultural view of
prefabrication, something which has been identified as different comparative to other
countries. Hayes (1999) shows that there was government propaganda, with
associations of housing methods with technical inventiveness and ‘military
operation’, and that equating non-traditional housing with modernity and efficiency is
false. Industry professionals aligned non-traditional methods with progress and
modernity.

Hayes (1999) and Piroozfar and Farr (2013) suggest that the poor opinion of
prefabricated housing in Britain in relation to other cultures can be attributed to a
conflict between ‘traditional architecture’ and prefabricated production, as seen in
Scotland. It is evident that there was a conflict of interest in architects’ opinions of
prefabrication, partially, due to the fear of it leading to the requirement of fewer
architects due to greater standardisation and generic design.

Local authorities had influence over the reconstruction in the post-war years.
Adoption of systems was influenced regionally, with enthusiasts in different regions
(Hayes, 1999). The 1940s saw architects leading non-traditional house design. At this
time BISF (British Iron and Steel Federation) housing became prominent (BRE,
2004). The selection of the best prefabricated housing systems was undertaken
through the construction of prototypes and then reducing these by selecting the best
for wider-scale use. The most widely produced non-traditional house in the 1940s was
BISF, designed by Gibberd, 36,546 were supplied (Hayes, 1999).

The complexity of prefabricated housing


Both McKean (1995) and Piroozfar and Farr (2013) describe a conflict between
aesthetics/architecture and manufacturing/production. Hashemi (2013) also describes
the aesthetic issues, particularly associated with cladding prefabricated systems. In
Scotland, McKean (1995) describes how prefabrication was preferred in the post-war
years, but how this interfered with a more national form of architecture.

BRE (2004) identifies how dramatic interventions in the course of history rarely have
the expected effect. The development of housing from 1918 to 1945 is multi-layered
and should not be judged simply in reflection but in the context in which it was
situated. The considerable demand, limited time, lack of resources and Britain’s war
involvement must be considered.

Prefabricated housing from post-WW2 to 1959


Phases of increased use of prefabrication have typically followed “periods of
economic uncertainty, profound demographic change and technological advances”
(McGrath and Horton, 2011: 245), such as the period following WW2. There were a
substantial number of technological innovations particularly evolving in prefabricated
housing after WW2. Technological innovations are described by Smith (2009) as a
reflection of sociocultural innovation. Prefabricated housing after WW2 was
influenced by multiple factors. Domestic construction was generally limited through
controls on both building materials and taxes on site development (English Heritage,
2011).

Accommodation, material and skills shortages


A significant shortage of accommodation during (English Heritage, 2011) and after
WW2 (BRE, 2002) resulted in an extensive market demand for housing. This
contributed to the adoption of the mass production philosophy (Piroozfar and Farr,
2013). There was a political drive for structural economic change, and the efficiency
of industry was perceived as the method of providing this (Hayes, 1999). Churchill
announced that prefabricated housing would be delivered and erected using
‘exceptional methods’ in a military-like operation (Hayes, 1999). Aware of the
positive propaganda of delivering homes to returning soldiers (Gay, 1987), he
promised over half a million prefabricated houses in 1944 (English Heritage, 2011),
but just 156,623 single-storey prefabricated houses in eleven standard government
designs were actually constructed in 1944 (English Heritage, 2011). Four types of
prefabricated bungalows with a design life of ten to fifteen years included Arcon
(38,859 units), Uni-Seco (28,999 units), Tarran (19,041 units) and Aluminium
(54,000 units) (Hashemi, 2013). Many of these lasted beyond their original design
lives (ibid.). The Government also set objectives for the provision of separate
dwellings for any families wanting one, in addition to recommencing the slum
clearance which started prior to WW2 (BRE, 2002). Demand for housing was high.

The shortage of materials and skilled labour had some effect on the uptake of non-
traditional housing (English Heritage, 2011; Hayes, 1999). Not all materials were in
limited supply – although softwood timber was in limited supply (English Heritage,
2011) further exacerbated by restrictions placed on timber imports by the government
in an attempt to improve national economy, there was a surplus of steel and
aluminium (BRE, 2002). Material shortages were apparent during the period
immediately following the war when timber was often dimensionally smaller than that
used prior to WW2 (McIntyre and Stevens, 1995). These shortages were considered
to be less of a problem than shortages in skilled labour (BRE, 2002; McIntyre and
Stevens, 1995). The skilled labour needed for traditional construction was to be
supplemented by the labour and capacity of the industrial sector, which had excess
capacity following the end of WW2 (BRE, 2002). The ‘excess capacity’ of industry
facilitated the development of prefabricated systems. Development was also driven by
the popularity of the flexibility a number of these systems could offer the occupants in
relation to the layout for current and future needs (Schneider and Till, 2007). There
were also shortages of mechanical plant during and after WW2, which resulted in the
need for ‘rigorous planning’ and an allocation system (Hayes, 1999: 286), and
therefore, systems minimising the need for or reliance on such plant were beneficial.
Temporary and long-term solutions
Prefabrication, particularly during WW2, has been suggested as being based on short-
term thinking and administrative failure in parallel with political drive, high visibility
and due to the need for a solution in the context of limited resources (Hayes, 1999).
Although some systems were designed to provide a temporary solution, most were
originally designed to provide long-term housing (BRE, 2002). Solutions were based
on scientific research, which was more weighted against traditional construction
methods (Hayes, 1999). Profit, self-promotion and fashion within architecture also
had an influence on the use of prefabricated housing, whereas local authorities were
granted little autonomy in relation to local housing policy (Hayes, 1999).

Support and resistance for prefabrication


There was resistance amongst the site staff immediately after WW2 (Hayes, 1999),
which in parallel with specialist plant shortages resulted in the reduced uptake of
prefabricated systems and methods (Hayes, 1999). Post-WW2 domestic construction
was also influenced by the availability of large sheets of plate glass and of central
heating (English Heritage, 2011). Other innovations included the use of separate
claddings such as brick; and ‘volumetric’ systems - where whole accommodation
units were prefabricated in a factory before being assembled on site (McIntyre and
Stevens, 1995). New construction was also affected by the absence of live-in servants
(English Heritage, 2011); new houses did not require space to accommodate servants.
A significant increase in prefabricated housing systems was seen immediately after
WW2, which included timber framed housing, a significant proportion of which were
imported (BRE, 2001; McIntyre and Stevens, 1995).

Non-traditional housing was heavily subsidised by the Government until 1947


(Hayes, 1999). After this, it often failed to compete economically with traditional
forms of construction (ibid.). By 1947, those who assessed and approved system
building, known as the BURT Committee, disbanded, but had recommended over 100
non-traditional systems for development (ibid.). BURT had favoured prefabricated
systems using concrete and steel materials in the face of timber shortages, but by the
mid-1950s such shortages were less significant (UWE, 2014), with the controls over
timber were lifted in 1953 (BRE, 2001).
Public reaction to these non-traditional systems in the 1940s was not unfavourable
(Hayes, 1999). The initial and continued popularity of the temporary bungalow Hayes
(1999) attributes to the modern conveniences it provided; its visible cottage style; and
its private outdoor space. Such systems were also promoted by the media, particularly
in the architectural press (ibid.). Policy makers have also been reported as viewing
traditional construction methods as unfavourable because they were considered
‘crude’ and ‘dirty’ (Hayes, 1999). Despite this, many local authorities found the
aesthetics of modernist, non-traditional housing unacceptable, thus brick clad or
rendered systems were often favoured (ibid.). However, these early post-WW2
systems mostly contained a limited level of thermal insulation in the walls (McIntyre
and Stevens, 1995) and some local authorities encouraged local councillors to vote
against non-traditional systems for their poor thermal and sound performance, and
due to condensation issues (Hayes, 1999). Despite this, local authorities had limited
autonomy regarding housing strategies, and those permitting the construction of non-
traditional systems in their jurisdiction could be granted bonus allocations in the
1950s from the government, justified on the basis of labour savings (ibid.). These
systems could also be promoted by deferring planning applications for traditional
housing construction (ibid.).

By the 1950s, the visibly modernist systems of the 1940s had fallen from favour
(Hayes, 1999), instead, there was a reverence for materials and the use of ‘natural’
architecture, the use of large windows and a mixture of materials (English Heritage,
2011). By the 1950s, the most widely manufactured non-traditional system in the
1940s – the BISF house, had been designated by government officials as ‘uglier’ than
traditional housing (Hayes, 1999). Scepticism regarding non-traditional construction
methods was visible at all levels of the built environment and the public (ibid.). The
construction of non-traditional housing was blighted by site delays, the inability to
stay within expected costs, an inability to estimate realistic on-site man-hours, and
poor finishing contributed to a poor image of this form of construction (ibid.). The
Government, however, continued to promote non-traditional construction (ibid.). In
parallel with the redevelopment of the city centres, there was also a drive towards
high-rise construction from the mid-1950s onwards (BRE, 2002). However, although
with much enthusiasm and confidence from the promoters of industrialised housing
systems, a large proportion of the public remained suspicious of these systems. These
suspicions were heightened after the collapse of the large panel system, Ronan Point
in 1968, resulting in changes to the structural legislation, such as regulations relating
to the mechanical connections between prefabricated structural components (Peason
and Delatte, 2005). Although a high rise example, Ronan Point was one example of
prefabricated construction dramatic failures fostering mistrust and suspicion amongst
the public in prefabricated construction more generally. Although prefabrication was
successfully used during the 1950s and 1960s for a variety of building types, it has
been acknowledged as catalysing social issues and resulting in structural issues in the
residential sector (Piroozfar and Farr, 2013). Similarly, the reputation of off-site
technology was damaged by the need to demolish the CASPAR II development in
Leeds in 2007 (McGrath and Horton, 2011) as a result of structural issues.

Prefabricated housing in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s


During the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s there was a shift towards industrialised buildings
within the construction industry (BRE, 2002). Modernization and non-traditional
methods founded on the philosophies of Bauhaus, an art and design school founded in
Weimar in 1919 by Walter Gropius (1883 – 1969) (Dominiczak, 2012; Periton, 1996),
contributed to a ‘factory manufacturing methodology’, particularly in social housing
(Hayes, 1999). The modern movement has been suggested as making ‘headway’ for
manufactured buildings, which were perceived as synonymous with ‘progress’ and
‘modernity’ (Hayes, 1999). From the 1960s and throughout the ‘70s, volumetric
construction was used, employing prefabricated construction in the form of frames
(timber or steel) or concrete ‘boxes’ (BRE, 2002).

A number of volumetric construction systems were used into the late 1970s and early
‘80s (BRE, 2002). Systems such as crosswall construction fell out of favour by the
mid-1960s as this form of construction, which uses masonry for the gable and party
walls and a timber infill panels, was slower to erect in comparison with ‘pure’ timber
frames (UWE, 2014). This was further catalysed by the introduction of the Building
Regulations in 1965 in the UK, which resulted in the replacement of local bye-laws
which had restricted the use of timber for party walls and cladding. Timber framed
construction was used particularly by local authorities from 1965 due to the
comparative ease of construction, the flexibility this form of construction afforded,
and the popularity amongst occupants for the functionality of the properties
(Keyworth, 1984). O’Neill et al. (2015) reports the use of British systems and
expertise in Ireland in the 1960s.

Modern timber frames


During the 1970s and ‘80s, timber-framed systems such as modern platform frames
came to dominate making up a third of the market (BRE, 2002). Private housing
developers typically had not previously adopted system build technology but started
adopting timber frame construction in the latter half of the 1970s as a result of the
financial constraints ensuing from high interest rates and the problems associated with
this (Keyworth, 1984). Timber frames were broadly identical aesthetically to
traditional construction and were therefore more accepted by speculative developers
(Hashemi, 2013) and the public. Additionally, in comparison with traditional
construction, they were quicker to erect, enabled cost savings on elements such as
foundations due to being a lighter form of construction, were cheaper, had a lower U-
values, and required fewer on-site man-hours (Hashemi, 2013), all significant benefits
in the context of 17% interest rates. Adverse media coverage through an episode of
World in Action in 1983 resulted in a downward turn in its use in England and Wales,
although BRE research has since been unable to evidence the assertions of the media
(BRE, 2002) that there were concerns regarding the water tightness and robustness of
such systems (Lovell (2007) and was even discussed in the House of Commons
(Hansard, 1983). In contrast, in Scotland, timber-frame construction remained a
significant proportion of new housing starts at around 40% (Cavill, 1999).

Prefabricated housing from the 1990s to the Present


Resistance and suspicion from the public relating to innovations in the construction
industry, where housing deviates from a traditional appearance has been attributable
to the negative associations with post-WW2 prefabricated housing (Edge et al., 2003).
These negative attitudes were based broadly on the quality of the building materials
and the poor workmanship of this form of construction (Parliamentary Office of
Science and Technology, 2003) during the post-WW2 period. However,
prefabrication became a key aspect encouraged by the Government as a result of the
Latham Report in 1994 and the Egan Report in 1998 (McGrath and Horton, 2011),
and again after the publication of the Barker Review in 2003. The Barker Review
resulted in the Government encouraging Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) to
help produce the quantity of quality housing needed in the UK (Pan et al., 2008;
Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2003), with the introduction of
policy promoting this form of construction in 2004 (Lovell and Smith, 2012).

The term ‘MMC’ is described in the literature as referring to a range of construction


methods (Marshall et al., 2011; Kempton and Syms, 2009). It is a term that
incorporates a range of off- and on-site construction methods (Danby and Painting,
2007), which was first applied in the UK (Steinhart et al., 2013). Although it refers to
construction methods different from traditional construction (e.g. brick/block walls)
(Kempton and Syms, 2009), it has also been referred to as non-traditional, modular
construction, off-site manufacture, and prefabricated construction (ibid.). In the UK
the phrase ‘MMC’ is used in preference to ‘prefabricated’ systems to avoid the stigma
attached to the latter term (Steinhart et al., 2013; Lovell and Smith, 2010), the UK
Government promoting the term ‘MMC’, stressing the high quality and durability of
these systems (Lovell, 2007). In this paper, the term MMCs refers to off-site MMCs.
The intention of the industry using the term MMC was in order to reflect the technical
improvements of prefabrication, and to incorporate both on and off-site construction
methods (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2003).

The adoption of MMCs or modular housing amongst housebuilders has been


recognisably slow (Rahman, 2014; Pan et al., 2008), although it is predicted to
increase in light of the pressures on the industry “to improve quality, time, cost,
productivity, and health and safety” (Pan et al., 2008: 56). The additional drivers for
the development of MMCs included “political, economic, social, technological and
environmental factors” (Pan et al., 2008: 57). MMCs are thought to be capable of
achieving higher building standards, and thereby deliver higher building performance
(Piroozfar et al., 2012). It has been considered to have the capability to provide
affordable, efficient construction (Lovell and Smith, 2012). The improvement in
performance comparative to traditional masonry construction, however, is difficult to
evaluate (Piroozfar et al., 2012). Further, there is some debate over whether MMCs
provide the ‘environmentally friendly’ construction methods (Piroozfar et al., 2012)
necessary in the face of the current drive for low carbon housing.
One of the main advocates of MMCs has been the Government (Pan et al., 2008).
However, government influence has been more effective in social housing than the
private housing stock, with no direct incentives for those constructing private housing
to adopt MMCs via planning and building regulations (ibid.). Some of the larger
private house builders have, however, invested in MMC factories, thereby increasing
production (ibid.). Holden (2008) suggests that the only apparent ‘drawbacks’ of such
technology is perception alone, which is suggested by Kempton and Syms (2009) as
grounded in cultural differences with ‘other countries’ seemingly more accepting of
MMC construction in the residential sector. Indeed, Rahman (2014) highlight that
MMCs have been used on a wider scale in Germany and Scandinavia, and in Japan,
40% of its new housing are constructed using MMCs. Although this perception
barrier is also identified elsewhere in the literature (e.g. Kempton and Syms, 2009;
Pan et al., 2008), the literature highlights a number of additional barriers to MMCs.
This includes higher capital cost and the difficulties in achieving economies of scale
(Azman et al., 2012; Pan et al., 2008), perceived performance, investment agenda,
and customer expectations (see Kempton and Syms, 2009 for a summary of these
barriers). Overall, industry professionals’ experiences of non-traditional construction
have “made them feel negative towards MMCs”, extending to design, maintenance,
and impact of tenants on the longevity of MMCs (Kempton and Syms, 2009, p.42).
Rahman (2014) also identify barriers such as cost-related issues, skill and experience,
motivation and culture, design standards, market demand, industry-related issues,
flexibility, and project-specific issues such as on-site space limitations.

As highlighted by Lovell and Smith (2010), although there has been much debate
about whether prefabricated housing costs more or less than traditional forms of
construction, increasing evidence suggests that prefabrication costs around 10% more
than traditional construction initially. Gibb (2001) suggests that, when considering
prefabricated components, units are often perceived as more expensive if accounting
for factory set-up and overhead costs. However, where the number of units being
produced increases, the unit cost decreases significantly (ibid.). Where assessing costs
based on a lifecycle assessment of two case study properties, Monahan and Powell
(2011) suggest that, MMC properties can deliver a 34% reduction in carbon emissions
over traditional construction methods.
Prefabricated housing – Going Forward
Prefabrication in the form of ‘MMCs’ has already been applied to achieve high
energy efficient performance in new housing (Ross, 2005). Advantages of MMC
construction have been identified as improved quality; increased thermal performance
and energy efficiency; improved acoustic, thermal and energy efficiency
performance; and a reduction in post-construction snagging and defects (Kempton
and Syms, 2009). In addition to this, a reduction in waste, defects, time, costs, health
and safety risks, environmental impact alongside improvements in profits,
predictability and life performance have been emphasised by Rahman (2014).
However, improvements in life performance have been indicated by Kempton and
Syms (2009) as a potential issue in social housing in relation to the longevity of the
product and resultant impact on the tenants.

In international research, Linner and Bock (2012) describe Europe as being behind
Japan in the industrialisation of prefabricated housing. British prefabricated housing
has a significant gap to close if it is to reach the production capacity and good
reputation of Japanese prefabricated housing. It is also evident that Japanese
prefabrication benefited from Lean production practices (ibid.); with lean being a
central topic of the British construction industry in recent years with technical and
academic publications, it is probable that lean and prefabrication will intertwine in
future due to the nature of prefabrication, and the housing demand. As the
development of technology such as three-dimensional printing continues, the
application of this to construction has already started, from architectural models
(Dimitrov et al., 2006) to larger components, and even structures (Buswell et al.,
2007).

Prefabrication is not ‘new’


It should be noted that prefabrication has been branded ‘new’ many times. According
to Schneider and Till (2007) there was a belief which started in the 1930s and 1940s
which continues to the present day that prefabrication and emerging technologies
were capable of providing mass housing. Hashemi (2013) compares modern
enthusiasm with prefabricated housing to that to the twentieth century and suggests
history is repeating itself with supporters of prefabrication claiming the advantages;
which are similar to that of the past. The author also identifies the low public
confidence due to the past mistakes, and in relation to the future planning of
prefabricated housing, asks: what are the long-term quality and costs of
developments?

Discussion
Prefabrication is often associated with timber. The use of timber to make
prefabricated housing in the 12th century is interesting, and the work of researchers to
identify the origins and classifications of crucks is research that will continue. There
is a broad existing academic literature here.

In the literature reviewed there was little found covering the period between 1624 and
1800. However, the export of prefabricated units is interesting and would be an
interesting area of academic research in Construction History.

The progression of prefabricated housing between 1800 and 1918 was interesting.
With technology and the development of systems, we get closer to the standardised
and industrialised prefabrication we see today. The use of corrugated iron is well
documented.

The academic and grey literature, documenting the evolution of prefabricated housing
between the World Wars is substantial. The BRE has significant literature on this. The
importing of housing and technology was interesting in this period. The demand for
housing is well charted. It was in this period that failures to deliver housing led to
protest against social housing, and ultimately stigmatisation. There were also
objections to the aesthetic of such housing. This is a significant topic for research,
more for Architectural History than Construction History. The topic of traditional
versus prefabricated housing is a topic talked about today. Considering the vagueness
of ‘traditional’, given what was reviewed, the meaning of what is regarded traditional
is a topic for further discussion. The lifespan of the ‘temporary housing’ should also
not be simply categorised as poor construction.

There were significant innovations in delivering houses, regardless of other factors.


Overall, the delivery of housing between wars is well documented by the BRE, other
organisations, and academics. It is this period that shows the complexity of the topic.

Delivering housing after WW2 was difficult, and this is documented. Prefabricated
housing was deemed inferior to ‘traditional’ and the aesthetics of prefabricated
housing were criticised. Scepticism of non-traditional housing grew and is still
influencing thinking.

From the 1960s onwards prefabrication became more industrialised, and volumetric
systems were used. The British had significant experience in prefabricated housing at
this stage and British systems were used in Ireland. The literature here is in-depth, and
housing built in this period is now the topic of housing retrofit reports. It is over this
period, the authors feel, the definition of prefabricated housing, with other words such
as ‘modular’ and ‘volumetric’ become interchanged. This will be a topic of debate
similar to that of ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’.

Modern Methods of Construction is not a wholly new method to deliver housing. As


before, with the war-time demand, these methods will be used to deliver affordable
housing. With housing delivery a prime topic in the construction industry, there will
be significant indigenous academic research and industry reports produced. There has
been a significant body of literature produced covering such methods.

Prefabricated housing is viewed differently internationally. It can be deemed efficient


and high-quality, but in Britain, there is still a stigma from past failures.

Going forward it is expected, based on past literature, old arguments will continue to
arise: cost and quality of ‘traditional’ versus that of ‘non-traditional’, ‘traditional’
versus ‘prefabricated, volumetric, modular’.

Overall there is a broad literature on Construction History topics due to journals,


conferences and the work of organisations. From this literature review the level of
scholarship generally high. There is a substantial broad literature on the construction
technology of housing in Britain. The topic of the evolution of house construction
technology is a niche area of Construction History research. This paper was done
partly to help other researchers get an overview of the academic and grey literature
covering prefabricated housing.

Conclusion
This paper has explored the existing literature relating to prefabricated construction
methods in low-rise housing.There is a significant body of academic and technical
literature on British prefabricated low-rise housing. There has been significant
development of these methods since the 12th century, particularly during the Industrial
Revolution and the 20th century, with further development in the form of MMCs in
the 21st century. This was influenced by technological advancement, transportation
developments, political drive, housing demand, and the availability of labour and
materials. The heavy focus on prefabricated methods in the 19th, 20th and 21st
centuries is partially attributable to it being recent, the volume of existing housing in
stock and the availability of recorded information. A lot of this stock is now the
subject of retrofit.
Changes have occurred with exporting and importing of systems - prefabricated
systems were initially exported from the 17th century from Britan to North America
and to the British colonies, and then imported to Britain from Scandinavia and
Canada in the 20th century. This perhaps demonstrates the ease of transportation of
such systems, and the potentially wide range of prefabricated construction types
across the UK incorporating materials such as timber, concrete and steel.

The popularity of such systems, so popular in places such as continental Europe and
Japan, is thought to be influenced by culture, and perhaps indicates the need for a
cultural shift in the UK. There have been phases of public and/or professional
scepticism of non-traditional housing in the UK. This was particularly seen during the
1950s and 1960s. Due to exceptionally high interest rates in the 1970s, prefabricated
timber-framed construction offered advantages such as faster erection over traditional
construction. However, negative media coverage in the 1980s on apparent failures or
defects in timber-framed systems adversely affected the uptake of this method of
construction in England and Wales, but not in Scotland where timber-framed
construction remained the methods of a significant proportion of new housing starts.

Prefabricated systems have seen phases of a political drive: from Churchill in the
1920s and post-WW2, the Latham and Egan reports in the 1990s, to the Baker review
in the 2000s. These systems have been seen as a method of efficiently delivering the
large quantities of housing demanded in the UK. In the 2000s ‘prefabrication’,
alongside other forms of non-traditional construction, was rebranded as MMCs to
avoid the stigma attached to the term ‘prefabrication’.

Many of the academic and technical papers have different focuses, and suffer
literature ‘blind spots’. The BRE publications are based on scientific criteria rather
than subjective aesthetic preferences and do not consider the view of occupiers or
architectural critics. Neither has the cost and difficulties of retrofitting been
considered in this literature. However, such systems have been found to perform as
well as traditional construction, with some exceptions. Recognising these ‘blind
spots’ is not to criticise the papers or their authors, it is an analysis of the literature.
Comparing this present research to that by Hashemi (2013) who undertook similar
research, Hashemi (2013) cites a broad literature. However, this was not focused
specifically on low-rise prefabricated housing. Hashemi (2013) concluded with
significant questions regarding quality and cost considerations for future
developments. This present paper explored the literature covering the evolution of
prefabricated low-rise housing – which covers a broad timespan, providing a
chronology and exploration of the literature on the evolution of prefabricated low-rise
housing.

This paper fulfils its purpose. This provides a resource to researchers who wish to
explore the evolution of prefabricated housing. It should be noted that there are books
on specific time periods and longitudinal analysis. Further detailed research could be
undertaken by identifying and analysing a specific time period or event.

Recommendations for further research


Construction History is under-researched, as stated in Holt (2015). It is evident that
the history and evolution of construction technology are subsequently under-
researched. There are many research topics that could be chosen from this paper and
the literature referenced. Prefabrication has a long history in Britain, and it was
charted in detail in the 1900s. There is ambiguity in its origins, and this will possibly
be researched further in the future. There are many time periods which could be
selected and explored. However, the history of importing and exporting housing from
the 1600s to 1900s requires further study. This is an area recommended for further
research. Prior to research, the early exporting of housing to the colonies was
unknown to the authors who have significant knowledge of housing. It might also be
unknown to other researchers.

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Figure 1: Timeline overview of low-rise housing based on reviewed literature

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